A Victory for the Far Right: “Front National wins opening round in France’s regional elections” | World news | The Guardian

“Marine Le Pen’s party capitalises on Paris attacks to win 27-30% of national vote, the highest the party has ever scored in a local election.”

I hate being  right sometimes! This was totally predictable. Why do we never learn from history? Do we really need to repeat the twentieth century? Haven’t we learned that radical political leaders peddling hate will only lead us down the path of death and destruction? These supposed “strong” leaders are nothing but bullies!

At this point, I don’t think they (and I include Donald Trump in this) can win. However, if the economy takes a turn for the worse or some other tragic event occurs before the election it is possible.

Source: Front National wins opening round in France’s regional elections | World news | The Guardian

“Get Used to It Europe: Homogenous States Are a Thing of the Past” | History News Network

Lawrence Davidson prompts European nations to accept the fact that homogeneous states are no longer realistic (if they ever were!). Therefore, “from every angle, ethical as well as historical, the way to approach the present refugee crisis is to allow, in a controlled but adequately responsive way, the inflow of those now running from the ravages of invasion and civil war. In so doing we should accept the demise of the homogeneous state. Whether it is Germany, France, Hungary, Israel or Burma, the concept is historically untenable and neither raises nor even maintains our civilizational standards. Rather it grinds them down into the dust of an inhumane xenophobia.”
I agree with Davidson that ideal vision of the nation-state of the past is a fantasy and that all European nations (I would add the U.S. as well) need to step up and help these refugees. However, it’s not enough just to accept the idea that nation-states must be multi-cultural. France, for example, has been a diverse society for some time now, but that hasn’t solved the problem of creating a harmonious society. The first difficulty will be to redefine what it means to be a member of a nation. Any definition that limits inclusion to those who have the right heritage (French ancestry, for example) or religion must be abandoned in favor a more inclusive definition (all citizens are members of the nation). This will not be easy, but diversity is a reality and it can be a benefit.
What’s the alternative? Any attempt to maintain uniformity within a nation can only come at great cost.  What Jefferson claimed in reference to religious uniformity is equally applicable when it comes to attempts to maintain uniformity more broadly: “is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum [moral censor] over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.”

History News Network | Get Used to It Europe: Homogenous States Are a Thing of the Past

“Social sciences and humanities faculties to close in Japan after ministerial decree” | Times Higher Education

“Seventeen universities are to close liberal arts and social science courses.” The nationalist Japanese government has achieved what many conservatives in the U.S. would like to achieve.

This does not bode well for the future!

Source: | Times Higher Education

“Fear” by Marilynne Robinson | The New York Review of Books

In FDR’s inaugural address in 1932, he famously said: “the only we thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In his speech he was referring to a fear that was “paralyz[ing].” But this famous quote equally applies to a different kind of fear. A fear that mobilizes.

The last several years have seen a rise in nationalism, xenophobia, and intolerance, which are fueling the rise in religious and ethnic violence. We cannot attribute this rise in hatred to one cause, but underlying many of these events are some common factors, whether past or present.

As human beings we are prone to tribalism. It is in our DNA, but we must remember that biology is not destiny. We can live peacefully side by side with those who are different, as we have frequently have done. However, this peace can too easily be shattered by changes in circumstance that cause feelings of insecurity  and uncertainty (such as economic downturns, changes in climate that lead to drought, real and imagined resentments, etc.). The resulting anxiety leads to the inevitable search for scapegoats (usually a foreign or disadvantaged group). Such conditions are ripe for the cunning demagogue. By exploiting the fears and prejudices of one group, he (or she) can mobilize this group into projects that serve the political/ideological/economic purposes of the demagogue. This pattern is repeating itself across the globe.

It appears that we are set to repeat the horrors of the twentieth century. Maybe not on the scale of WWII with large national armies (although that is possible as well), but more likely it will take the form of a guerrilla-style fighting that is brutal and barbaric. But no matter what form it takes many more innocent people will suffer unless we figure out some way to live with those who are different from us. Demanding a brutal conformity is not a viable option, unless we want to live in a totalitarian society that has no qualms about using fear, coercion, and violence to achieve such conformity. Attempts to create uniformity (which inevitably fail) come at too great a cost, as Jefferson recognized: “Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” Jefferson was speaking of religious conformity, but the same sentiment applies to all efforts at conformity, whether national, religious, or political.

This brings me to the article by Marilynne Robinson. Even though Robinson was writing in the context of domestic events and our gun culture, her analysis leads to conclusions that are similar to mine above. In fact, she begins by referring back to the Wars of Religion in France, in which the Catholic majority tried to exterminate the Protestant minority (Huguenots).

“The terrible massacres of Protestants in France in the sixteenth century, whether official or popular in their origins, reflect the fear that is engendered by the thought that someone really might destroy one’s soul, plunge one into eternal fire by corrupting true belief even inadvertently. If someone had asked a citizen of Lyon, on his way to help exterminate the Calvinists, to explain what he and his friends were doing, he would no doubt have said that he was taking back his city, taking back his culture, taking back his country, fighting for the soul of France.” (although they saw it more in terms of defending the “true” religion.)

Based on these insights she came to the same basic underlying factor that unites the Wars of Religion with the fanatic gun rights advocates in the US (she’s not saying they are the same, only that they are motivated by a similar attitude towards another group): “At the core of all this is fear, real or pretended. What if these dissenters in our midst really are a threat to all we hold dear? Better to deal with the problem before their evil schemes are irreversible, before our country has lost its soul and the United Nations has invaded Texas. We might step back and say that there are hundreds of millions of people who love this nation’s soul, who in fact are its soul, and patriotism should begin by acknowledging this fact. But there is not much fear to be enjoyed from this view of things. Why stockpile ammunition if the people over the horizon are no threat? If they would in fact grieve with your sorrows and help you through your troubles?”

Source: Fear by Marilynne Robinson | The New York Review of Books

“Yes, It Could Happen Again…the trigger points for World War III are in place.” – The Atlantic

Optimism is all the rage today, but Roger Cohen reminds us that pessimism can be “a useful prism through which to view the affairs of states.” The problem with optimism is that it often blinds us to the warning signs of looming catastrophes. Too much pessimism has its dangers as well, but today we seem to be wearing rose colored glasses when considering the possibility of another major world war. Not to mention that the fear of terrorism has consumed all our attention when it comes to world affairs. But this is a mistake. It is important, but it is not existential threat that it has been made out to be. There are events in other parts of the world that are more concerning in terms of their destabilizing potential across the globe. The potential for large-scale land wars has not disappeared, despite appearances.

You’re probably tired of me ranting about nationalism, but the threat it poses is real and deserves our attention. I’m glad to see that Cohen has taken it seriously. As he points out, “It is already clear that the nationalist fervor unleashed by Putin after a quarter century of Russia’s perceived post–Cold War decline is far from exhausted. Russians are sure that the dignity of their nation has been trampled by an American and European strategic advance to their border dressed up in talk of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Whether this is true is irrelevant; they believe it. National humiliation, real or not, is a tremendous catalyst for war.” And this type of national fervor and perceived humiliation is not limited to Russia. It can be found across the globe from Japan to Israel and eastern Europe.

I would recommend reading Cohen’s thoughtful consideration of this very important topic. I somewhat disagree with his solution concerning the need for U.S. power projection, but overall his diagnosis of the problem is well-grounded in historical precedent. Read the entire piece here: Yes, It Could Happen Again – The Atlantic.

WWI

“India and Israel Start to See Enemies Within” – Bloomberg View

Nationalism has been on the rise lately. I’ve written previously about the new nationalism in Russia and Japan, but the rise of nationalism in India and Israel may even be more concerning. Pankaj Mishra describes the current situation in these two countries: “There are eerie similarities between the Hindu thugs who assault Muslim males marrying Hindu women and followers of the far-right Israeli group Lehava (Flame), who try to break up weddings between Muslims and Jews…The new ruling classes seem obsessed with moral and patriotic education, reverence for national symbols and icons (mostly right-wing), and the uniqueness of national culture and history.” These leaders were brought to power by tapping into the resentment and discontent of their respective populations. This “politics of resentment,” as Mishra calls it, is powerful, and astute politicians know how to exploit it. As human beings we seem to have an affinity for nationalism. It gives us an identity, a purpose, a community, a compelling narrative, and a scapegoat for our woes. Unfortunately, it more often than not devolves into violence and oppression. How many times do we have to go down this road? Will we ever learn?

“It would be nice to hope that India and Israel’s emboldened hotheads are different, and will lead their countries to stability, prosperity and peace through their special mix of right-wing economics and the politics of ressentiment. It is already clear, however, that they find more thrilling the prospect of perpetual warfare with their perceived enemies, especially the ones within.” I’m afraid that Mishra is right.

Read Mishra’s important reporting on the situation in India and Israel: India and Israel Start to See Enemies Within – Bloomberg View.

"Playing with fire? Photographer: NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images"

“Playing with fire? Photographer: NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images”

“Russia must not be allowed to rewrite Srebrenica’s history” | Natalie Nougayrede | The Guardian

We all want to belong. We all want to think that we are good. We all want to be proud of our heritage, community, and history. We all want to have purpose and meaning in our lives. These are all genuine human desires that are by themselves positive sentiments, but they ultimately leave us vulnerable to manipulation by ambitious political leaders. Because nationalism fulfills all of these desires it has been the ideal political weapon for leaders like Slobodan Milosević, who unleashed the forces of Serbian nationalism as a way to rise to power. But more than fulfilling Milosević’s political ambitions it also released the forces of hatred that tore apart the former Yugoslavia of which the massacre of Srebrenica was a part of. Nationalism rests on an “us versus them” narrative that is more myth than actual history. All past nationals sins must be swept under the rug as a way to make the nation worthy of glory. If it just engendered pride in one’s past, nationalism would not be such a destructive force. Unfortunately, the end result is usually arrogance and hatred.

Natalie Nougayrede’s article at The Guardian reminds us that Putin is playing with the same fire for his own political purposes. This is not to say that Putin is planning to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing, but that his use of nationalism will, and already has, bring great suffering to many. Putin’s veto of the UN resolution is only a small part of his overall power play, but as Nougrayrede reminds us, it is still significant if we value peace and justice. “Some will argue that Russia’s latest veto should be seen as just another snub to the west. But the rewriting of the history of the Bosnian war and the unravelling of the mechanisms that the west tried to put in place to prevent more violence are something that Europeans would do well not to minimise. If only because of those unarmed 8,000 men and boys who were killed just because of who they were: Bosnian and Muslim.”

Russia must not be allowed to rewrite Srebrenica’s history | Natalie Nougayrede | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Srebrenica mourning

Srebrenica: Twenty Years after the Genocide, Have we Learned Anything?

I doubt it. Many Americans don’t know anything about the Bosnian War (1991-1995) much less Srebrenica. And if they did they would likely be baffled by the confusing mix of ethnic and religious groups, and conclude, like we did during the conflict, that there is nothing we can do! In addition, our focus, in terms of foreign policy, has been taken over by the troubles in the Middle East. At the time of I don’t think we ever learned them, but it’s never too late to learn something. Therefore, it is worth remembering what happened in Srebrinica.

On this day twenty years ago the Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladić entered the U.N. declared “Safe Area” at Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees had sought safety. No one thought that the Serbs would dare attack a U.N. “safe area” while the world was watching, but Mladić knew that the Dutch U.N. soldiers could do nothing. They were there to protect the Bosnian Muslims, yet their mandate only allowed them to use their weapons in their own defense. This situation was the result of the reluctance of Western nations to risk their own soldiers’ lives in defense of others.

After negotiations, Mladić was able to manipulate the U.N. into paying for the gas for buses that would, unbeknownst to the U.N., be used to take only the women out of Srebrinica. They had something else in mind for the men. Even before the Dutch soldiers had gone the Serbs separated the men from the women. However, they made sure that the Dutch would not see the killing, and therefore sent them on their way before the real killing began. In the end, they massacred approximately 8,000 Muslim men.

bosnia-srebrenica-warcrimes-genocide-commemoration-1

The point of the massacre, and those at other “safe areas,” was to ethnically cleanse (a term the Serbs coined themselves) the remaining Muslim enclaves in pursuit of their dream of a Greater Serbia that was free of all non-Serbs. Ironically, this massacre and the “cleansing” of the other safe areas opened the way for a peace agreement that was signed on December 14, 1995 in Dayton, Ohio. Continue reading

Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was ‘side issue’ to Civil War – The Washington Post

“Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by ‘sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery’ — written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.” This is what happens when politically motivated Schools Boards determine what children will learn. You may recall the kerfuffle over the Texas state curriculum standards in 2010 and the textbooks in 2014 that led to this version of the Civil War appearing in Texas social studies textbooks. (see previous posts on this subject here and here)

The belief that the Civil War was about states’ rights not slavery might be comforting to some, but that feeling comes at the cost of truth, justice, progress, and everything we hold dear as a nation. How can students understand the present if they have been mislead about the past?

Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was ‘side issue’ to Civil War – The Washington Post.

civil-war-confederacy